Pizza-Stuffed Squash Boats

>> Monday, August 29, 2016

Pizza-Stuffed Squash Boats

A few days ago I received a giant zucchini squash from a friend - I mean, this was a monster, 15 inches long and about 4 inches wide. Immediately I thought of stuffing it with something, and rummaged through the pantry for inspiration. Some good Italian sausage rounded it out nicely, and we had a carb-free pizza dinner.

One year growing up in the country, our family tried the Great Zucchini Experiment. We decided to cultivate a half acre of squash to sell at the farmer's market. Farmer's markets in that place and time were not filled with trendy gourmet and organic premium vendors; these were farmers selling directly to the produce buyers for canneries, factories, and grocery stores.

Our family plan was to work together on the zucchini plot and split the profits based on the amount of work we each put in. Being the baby and somewhat babied, I am sure I put in the least amount of work, but every Saturday before dawn I'd load up baskets of the squash into the old pickup and we'd sit with the other farmers in our folding lawn chairs while the buyers browsed.

Week after week, no one bought from us. We couldn't understand it. My mom sent me out to scout the competition, and I reported back that we had the biggest squash at the market, way bigger than anyone else's. The squash we weren't selling went week after week into the freezer or onto the table until we all thought we'd die of zucchini poisoning.

Finally mom asked a farmer friend to come take a look at our stock and tell us what we were doing wrong. He picked up a ginormous zucchini. "These are way too big. Seeds get hard in there and they taste bitter; nobody wants to buy them like that." He told us the produce folks were looking for ones about 4 inches long and 2 wide, with evenly green, unblemished skin and a high gloss. They looked for a fresh stem end, too, so we were best off picking them the day of the market if we could.

So that's what makes for the best and freshest squash, and those are the ones I recommend looking for when you're shopping. We took his advice and picked with flashlights in the early morning to get the freshest ones to the market. And it was many years before I could make myself eat zucchini again, after the Williams Zucchini Collective folded.


1 pound Italian sausage
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 14-oz. can pizza sauce, or 1 can tomato puree with 1 tsp oregano and 2 tsp basil
1/3 cup water
3 squash, 4-5 inches long
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated


Take the sausage out of its casing and brown it in a medium skillet until it is crumbly and completely cooked. Set it aside in a bowl, and saute the onion, pepper, and garlic until tender. Add the sausage, sauce, and water, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the squashes in half lengthwise and cut off the stem end. Cut out the seeds from the center of each half. Place the squash face-down on a plate and microwave on high for 10 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Spray a baking sheet with oil. Place the squash rind-side down and fill with the sausage mixture. Sprinkle with the cheeses, then put it the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the filling is cooked through and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serves 4-6.


Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits (lower fat version)

>> Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits

Both of our girls worked at Red Lobster when they were in high school, but Joe and I never got tired of those buttery cheesy biscuits. They've been out of the Darden restaurant chain for years now; Joe and I had to come up with a new biscuit recipe that tasted the same but was lower in fat and calories than the original.

This works pretty well and satisfies my unending craving for breads soaked in garlic butter and cheese. Don't judge me - the first step of addiction is admitting I have a problem.


2 cups light Bisquick biscuit mix
2/3 cup skim milk
1/2 cup low-fat sharp cheddar, shredded
1/4 cup butter
1/2 garlic clove, minced, or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon parsley


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Stir the biscuit mix and cheese together in a mixer bowl, then slowly add the milk while mixing on low speed. When a sticky dough forms, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on high speed for 30 seconds.

Spray a baking pan with oil. Drop 12 spoonfuls of dough onto the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown.

While the biscuits are baking, microwave the butter, garlic, and parsley until the butter is melted. Brush over the biscuits before removing them from the baking sheet. Serve warm.

Makes 12 biscuits.


Pesto Potato Salad Nicoise

>> Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pesto Potato Salad Nicoise

This main-dish potato salad is a delightfully different take on the ordinary summer staple. It combines the classic French nicoise salad with a creamy pesto-based dressing. Perfect for our memories of Nice, which also remind Joe of Italy.

The last time Joe was in Nice, he was there on business for a French pharmaceutical company. He didn't get to enjoy much of the seaside life until his day off. Then he went on a countryside run that skirted the Mediterranean nearly to San Remo over the Italian border, before heading back for lunch. He ordered a classic salade Ni├žoise, which is usually a cold composed salad of potatoes, olives, tomatoes, sardines, tuna, and green beans.

Our version is a a cool summer salad that looks pretty fancy on a platter and gives you something new to do with potato salad. I've already made it a couple of times this summer - and ate the leftovers yesterday at lunch.

Pesto Potato Salad Nicoise


For the pesto

3 tbsp basil leaves
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp pine nuts
1/2 tsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil

For the salad

2 eggs
6 medium potatoes, scrubbed
2 cups green beans, rinsed and cut in half
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 cup white onion, finely sliced
1 6-oz can tuna packed in water, drained
1/4 cup black olives, sliced
1 tbsp anchovy paste
2 tsp salt
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp lemon juice
2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 head of romaine lettuce, separated into leaves


Blend together all pesto ingredients until smooth. Stir together with the mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and anchovy paste, and chill the sauce.

Boil the eggs and potatoes until the potatoes are just tender; drain and rinse with cold water. Chill, then cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks and the eggs into wedges. Place the green beans in boiling water and blanch for 3 minutes, then immerse them in cold water to stop the cooking. 

In a large bowl, stir together the potatoes, green beans, celery, onion, tuna, olives, and sauce. Place the lettuce leaves on individual plates or a large platter. Mound the salad on the lettuce, then arrange the egg and tomato wedges around the salad. 

Serves 4-6.


Potatoes Gratin Savoyard

>> Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Potatoes Gratin Savoyard

Potatoes au gratin, or scalloped potatoes, are one of my favorite ways to make spuds, because what's better than a casserole of cream, butter, cheese, and potatoes? Well, we found something even better. Yes we did.

Flipping through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", I found this recipe for a casserole of potatoes cooked with butter, beef broth, and plenty of Swiss cheese. The flavor is astounding. It makes regular potatoes au gratin seem bland and boring.

Like always, we did our best to lighten up this recipe. I can't imagine how the French could eat like this every day without an epidemic of heart disease. Maybe French butter is healthier, or something.

Scalloped potatoes


6 cups red-skinned potatoes, sliced 1/8" thick
4 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup grated low-fat Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup hot beef broth


Soak the potatoes in cold water for 15 minutes, to remove the sticky starch from the surface. Dry on paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 10-inch round or 9x12 square casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread half the potatoes in the dish, then dot with half the butter and cheese. Spread the rest of the potatoes on top, and add the rest of the butter and cheese.

Stir together the garlic, salt and pepper, and broth. Pour over the potatoes. 

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the cheese is slightly browned on top.

Serves 6.

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